Human rights non-governmental organisation Amnesty International clarified on Wednesday that the leaked list of contacts of the Pegasus Project "is irrefutably linked to potential targets of NSO Group's Pegasus spyware".
A day earlier, American investigative journalist Kim Zetter cited a quote by Amnesty International, from an article published by Israeli news outlet Calcalist, to claim that the list was only "indicative" of Israeli security firm NSO's interests.
The quote was then carried over by multiple news outlets in India to claim that Amnesty itself had admitted that the list was not directly linked to Pegasus.
Refuting this, Amnesty said in a public statement that the "data is irrefutably linked to potential targets of NSO Group's Pegasus spyware".
"Amnesty International categorically stands by the findings of the Pegasus Project, and that the data is irrefutably linked to potential targets of NSO Group's Pegasus spyware. The false rumours being pushed on social media are intended to distract from the widespread unlawful targeting of journalists, activists and others that the Pegasus Project has revealed."
Misquoted, Claims Amnesty
Gil Naveh, spokesperson of Amnesty International Israel, told The Wire that Amnesty's Hebrew statement had been misquoted by some Israeli news outlets, which was cited further by other news outlets in English.
"Amnesty, and the journalists involved in the investigation, made it clear from the outset in very clear language that this was a list of numbers marked or targeted as numbers of interest for NSO's customers, who are various regimes in the world," Naveh said.
Naveh also maintained that Amnesty's Hebrew statement was exactly the same way as the 17 other media organisations that are part of the Pegasus Project.
The media outlets had earlier reported that the list of 50,000 numbers were a potential target list for the Pegasus spyware, further adding that only 67 phones were analysed in the list, out of which 37 were found infected. The news reports had maintained that it was not certain if all the numbers were actually hacked, or faced an attempted hack.
BOOM also reached out to Amnesty for clarification on their statement. We were instead provided with Amnesty's global statement on the matter.
The Calcalist Report
Israeli news outlet Calcalist had published Amnesty's statement as, "The list contains the kind of people NSO's clients would ordinarily be interested in spying on, but the list isn't specifically a list of people who were spied on -- though a very small subset of people on the list were indeed spied on."
This statement was carried by many Indian news outlets, such as India Today, Republic, Outlook, and right-wing website OpIndia to claim that the international NGO has done a u-turn on its earlier statements.
Union Minister Meenakshi Lekhi told NDTV that Pegasus was a fake story. "Amnesty has denied the list circulating in the media", she added.
Kanchan Gupta, Senior Advisor in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, dismissed the stories on the Pegasus investigation, using Zetter's tweet carrying the Calcalist article. "So Amnesty conjured a 'list' of 'possible targets' and fed it to media collaborators who feverishly put out eyeball-grabbing lurid stories," he said.
Zetter herself refuted this in a response, and wrote, "You've misinterpreted this entirely. No one conjured the list. The list is real, and it definitely contains people on it who were spied on with the Pegasus software."
Previous articles on the Pegasus had revealed the presence of Indian phone numbers, including that of journalists, activists, politicians, medical experts and political consultants in the list.
BOOM also reached out to Calcalist for clarification, and the story will be updated upon getting a response.
Furthermore, digital forensic analyses conducted on phones of at least 10 numbers of journalists from the leaked list reveals successful or attempted Pegasus hack. This includes numbers of three Wire journalists - Siddharth Varadrajan, M.K. Venu and Rohini Singh, along with that of former Economic and Political Weekly editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and former Outlook journalist S.N.M. Abdi.
The leaked list was accessed by French non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which was then shared with media outlets around the world, including The Wire, The Washington Post and The Guardian, for a collaborative investigation called the Pegasus Project.
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